A High Court judge has awarded former investigative journalist Anika Gumbs $255,000 in damages for a series of libellous articles published in Sunshine newspaper almost four years ago.
Delivering judgment in the San Fernando Civil Court, Justice Nadia Kangaloo found that the articles amounted to an attack on Gumbs and made her a public target.
Ordering costs in the sum of $47,000, the judge also took issue with the disregard shown by the defendants—Sunshine Publishing Company Ltd which was owned by Jack Warner, investigative reporter Azad Ali and editor Anthony “Lexo” Alexis, for the court process.
Neither the defendants nor any attorney on their behalf showed up for trial yesterday.
Gumbs sued the newspaper and the journalists after four articles consisting of libellous statements against her were published between August and October 2015.
She was then an investigative reporter at the Trinidad Express. When the matter was called, Gumbs’ witness statement was tendered into evidence.
In his submissions to the court, Gumbs’ attorney Nizam Mohammed said she had written several expose touching and concerning Warner when she worked at the Guardian newspaper.
She said the false newspaper articles in the Sunshine newspapers were an apparent retaliation to the articles she had written about Warner.
Submitting that she was a professional journalist with some 18 years experience, Mohammed said the articles were malicious and libellous and deeply affected her personal and professional life.
He was instructed by attorney Genevieve Thompson. In her ruling, Kangaloo noted Gumbs’ evidence that she not only suffered from depression and social and emotional pressure but was also the subject of attacks on her professional and personal reputation which caused her to leave the country in January 2017.
Kangaloo found that there was a significant absence of evidence to show that the defendant took steps to gather and publish information contained in the articles in a clear and responsible manner.
“The court considered that the four articles constituted a concerted attack on the claimant’s (Gumbs) reputation both professional and personal which resulted in her reputation being significantly affected,” the judge said.
The judge added: “The court accepts that the chronology of events which have been heralded in the claimants evidence... do in fact demonstrate that the claimant was a target... and trust into the public light as a result of these articles and headlines to which the court has referred and as such became a target for the public at large as a result of the publication of these articles.”
“The court, therefore, must sound its displeasure with that attack and in particular the lack of support it has received at the trial of this matter from the defendants by way of their complete absence and disregard of the court’s process and the careless and reckless approach to the court process.”
The defendants made an appearance during the case management hearing. However, after their attorneys withdrew from the matter in October 2018 they failed to appear and remained unrepresented.
The judge found no evidence to support the defendant’s defence which relied on the grounds of justification, fair comment, qualified privilege and the Reynolds case.
The judge said the defendants failed “whether by careless or callousness or just inability to assist this court in any way” to prove the contents in the articles were true.”
Speaking to the media afterwards, Gumbs said she always had confidence in the judicial system.
Reporter: Sascha Wilson